Sleepers (1996)

Barry Levinson directs Kevin Bacon, Jason Patric and Robert De Niro in this nostalgic New York crime thriller where a group of boys are sent to an abusive reform school in the late Sixties only for two of them to find themselves in court for the murder of a guard a decade or so later.

Sleepers is a problematic film where the great far outweighs the inherent flaws. Based on a quite unbelievable and publicly contested memoir, the torrential flow of the story would definitely be fleshed out into a mini-series these days. As a feature length release that shifts gear awkwardly from coming of age drama to gruelling prison movie to subdued courtroom caper – all the while borrowing tonally from both Goodfellas and the director’s own Diner. Levinson somehow blending it all together, Sleepers manages to coalesce rather than explode. There’s wonderful support acting from Dustin Hoffman, Bobby De Niro, Vittorio Gassman and Bruno Kirby. Kevin Bacon obliterates the middle act as the irredeemable pederast prison warder. His greatest performance and the EE adverts haven’t referenced it once?! Yet Brad Pitt, Jason Patric, Billy Crudup and Ron Edlard make little impact as the grown up composites of the boys. Leaving the movie for a huge later swathe without a workable protagonist. Luckily the unlikely legal con job they have orchestrated has teeth and grips. Like most of the outstanding original and borrowed elements swirling around in Sleepers, we don’t get quite enough game time with this clever concept. Echoing many better films and standing on the acting shoulders of giants, this is too classy and sincere an affair to dismiss. I watched the shit out of it as a teenager. It still fills an evening nicely. You can’t say that about many movies where systematic sexual abuse is the key driver.


Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

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